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Cordyceps harvesting legalised
June 2004
People in the higher regions of Paro, Thimphu, Wangduephodrang, Gasa, Lhuntse, Trashigang, Trashiyangtse, Haa, and Bumthang can now harvest the Yartsa Goenbub (Cordyceps sinensis) legally, following a royal command issued by His Majesty the King on June 17, 2004.

In 2002 the harvesting of the cordyceps was legal only in Lunana geog under Gasa dzongkhag where the living condition of about 158 households has reportedly improved.

Farmers are permitted to collect the plant

"The people are now able to buy more rice, chillies, better clothes and renovate their houses," said the Lunana gup, Dorji Drolek. "Every year each family sells about two kgs of cordyceps worth Nu 20,000 to Nu 60,000 a kilogramme. "The whole geog combined makes over Nu 200,000-500,000 a year."

"The farmers are allowed to harvest and sell the cordyceps on condition that they do it on a sustainable basis," said the agriculture marketing services officer, Sonam Tobgay. "Long term sustainability should be the focus."

Cordyceps sinensis

The cordyceps grow from May 1 to the beginning of July and farmers are permitted to collect the plant from June 1 to 30. The government will charge a royalty of 10 percent from what farmers earn selling the cordyceps to the authorised buyers and exporters.

Until last year the forest and nature conservation act prohibited farmers from harvesting and selling the cordyceps. But some farmers in the cordyceps growing areas were known to have been harvesting the plant illegally and selling it across the northern border.

A Wangduephodrang businessman, Rinchen, said that earlier people in his geog sold cordyceps to medical institutes in the country as well as to buyers outside. "They would sell it for Nu 30,000 to Nu 50,000 a kilogramme, depending on the quality," said Rinchen, adding that it was frustrating to see cordyceps grow in their village and not be able to harvest them. "Yartsa Goenbub grows in our villages and we can only watch it die," said another Wangduephodrang businessman, Norbu. "But there were those who harvested and sold them without government's knowledge."

Illegal trade

According to studies conducted by the ministry illegal trade with Tibet in the past had incurred a loss of about Nu 180 million to the government. The agriculture ministry says that it is not necessary for farmers to procure licenses to sell the plants to authorised buyers. "But to export cordyceps to other countries like Hong Kong, farmers or the buyers will have to obtain a license," said Sonam Tobgay. He added that, in near future, Bhutanese cordyceps could be sold in California where there was an interest in buying the plant. It is believed that the Bhutanese cordyceps are of premium quality.


Fixed floor price

According to the agriculture ministry, if the people of a particular village were caught taking the cordyceps across the border and selling them without a license it would result in confiscation of the plant or proceeds from its sale along with compensation at the market value. "Continuous violation of rules will lead to suspension of harvesting and collection of cordyceps in that particular area," said a ministry spokesperson. The agriculture ministry will fix a floor price for farmers to sell the cordyceps to authorised buyers on June 24, 2004. "For instance, if we fix the floor price at a minimum cost of Nu 100 a kilogramme, the farmers may go beyond it, but cannot sell it for less," Sonam Tobgay said. "Without a floor price our farmers could get manipulated."

Cordyceps sinensis is a highly valued medicinal mushroom used in clinical medicine, as a household remedy and as an over all tonic.


Transaction form

To make the cordyceps transaction official the agriculture ministry has made a transaction form in which the buyers will have to fill up how many kilogrammes of cordyceps they buy from the farmers and for how much. "The transaction between the buyers and the sellers should take place in presence of the sales committee comprising the gup and a forestry official who will be the witness," said the agriculture marketing services officer, Sonam Tobgay.

Buyers can go to any cordyceps growing places and buy the plant and after having bought the plant from the farmers, they will have to get a clearance from the Bhutan Agriculture Food Regulatory Authority which will issue a certificate to the buyers wanting to export it to other countries.

"The certificate will maintain that the package contains cordyceps to avoid buyers getting into problems with the forestry and customs personnel when they export it to other countries," said an agriculture officer.

This article was contributed by Kuensel, Bhutan's national newspaper 2004
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